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ACLU blasts school officials over sixth-grader's Harvey Milk report

May 20, 2009 |  9:39 pm

The ACLU is demanding that school officials in the northern San Diego County community of Ramona apologize to a sixth-grade student who was not allowed to present her report on slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk during class time.

Instead, the principal sent letters to parents giving them the option of not allowing their child to listen to the presentation by classmate Natalie Jones. Officials cited the district policy requiring that parents be notified before any classroom instruction about sex, AIDS or "family life."

About half the class received permission and listened to the report, which was given during lunch hour rather than regular classroom time like other students' reports, the ACLU said.

The sixth-grader at Mt. Woodson Elementary School said she decided to do a report on Harvey Milk after seeing the movie "Milk," starring Sean Penn. Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., although his political legacy is not restricted to issues of sexuality.

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties asserts that officials misinterpreted the district's policy on sex education and, in the process, violated Natalie's free speech rights. The group has given the Ramona Unified School District five days to respond or face a possible lawsuit.

"Schools that act as if any mention of gay people is something too controversial or sensitive to discuss are doing a disservice to their students," said ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill.

School Supt. Robert Graeff did not respond to repeated requests from The Times for comment.

--Tony Perry